Driving organizational change

In most countries there are laws that are designed to shape the behavior of the citizens.

Let’s take the speed limit that most countries have as a part of the transportation laws, how many people do you know that consistently follow these rules?
Do the people who actually follow it do it out of respect to the rules or fear of punishment?  I don’t think so.

I find that people obey rules that they agree with, the kind of rules that makes sense to them, and are considered morally right.
I guess most of us will not murder anyone even if there were no rules that forbid it.

When there are rules that we do not wish to follow, we still follow them when the enforcing person is in the area, going back to the speed limit example: Many people I know have a reflex of pushing the breaks when they see a police car, even in the distance, even if they were not speeding. We find and adopt mechanisms that allow us to stay under the radar, and as soon as we feel safe again, we will go back to our old habits.

Point 1: Authority and coercive power cannot create a real change in people’s behavior.

If you are reading this post and considering adopting agile, I am now giving you a unique offer: I am offering my services for free (NOT A JOKE), that is, 5 consulting days for free, but with three conditions: We start tomorrow morning (Valid for 3 days after the post is published)

  1. You commit to doing exactly as I say.
  2. In case you don’t follow my orders you will pay the regular fee of 5 consulting days.
  3. Tomorrow morning an agile coach from my company will come to your office and have a 1-day workshop with all managers, in this meeting we shall nominate a product owner, change the organizational structure if needed, nominate team coaches (Scrum masters), create a backlog with requirements, create task boards (and perhaps Kanban boards), and more… A little organizational revolution.

Do you agree? I guess no. Why not? Partly because people don’t like changes, especially the ones that are initiated by other people. Even if things are not doing so well now, we fear of what will happen, or as Dan North puts it: “We would rather be wrong than uncertain”

Let examine that notion, look at the people you know and ask:

  • How many of them live in a house that they don’t like?
  • How many of them have a lousy relationship with their intimate (or not so) partner?
  • How many of them hate their workplace?

I am guessing you could find a few.
People fear change! Did I make my point?

Point 2: People fear change. They just do.

Consider people who suffer from overweight: How many times their family and friends suggested that they change their eating habits? How many doctors have told them that what they doing is bad for them? How often do you hear people talking about the phenomenon of radio or TV shows? I am guessing a lot.

But still, these people in many cases do not change their eating habits. What is wrong with these people !? Nothing.

There is nothing wrong with them, in fact, they display what some refer to as “normal human behavior”. No matter how many times you repeat the message and talk to them about it, they will not do anything until THEY decide that they want to change it (and have the discipline to keep up to their decision). When will this happen? When they will find the intrinsic motivation for doing that when something from within will tell them that it is time for a change.

Point 3: We cannot change other people.

When you argue with someone:  Even if you are universally right, even if you were able to find more holes than in a Swiss cheese in his arguments in his statements, even if you crumbled his argument one after the other, even then, 9 out of 10 times you did not really win the argument, and even more likely is that you did not achieve the goal you had an argument in the first place, unless of course if your goal was to get the other person to dislike you and to break some trust between you two.

What did you expect? After that, you have spent the last few minutes proving to that person that he has no idea, that he may even be even stupid, uneducated and you are definitely smarter than he is, do you think the person is in a mental state to collaborate with you or follow your idea?

Try to remember the arguments that ended up with the other person being right and you were wrong, how did it feel? Did you feel in a collaborative mood?

Point 4: You cannot persuade someone by winning an argument.

Let’s recap the points I mentioned:

  1. Authority and coercive power cannot create a real change in people’s behavior.
  2. People fear change. They just do.
  3. We cannot change other people.
  4. You cannot persuade someone by winning an argument.

When trying to make an organizational change in general, and specifically agile change, these are the things that you should be aware of, they will materialize in different ways and will make the change effort more challenging than you originally expected.
Try to find ways to drive the change that takes these points into consideration, try to influence the people you work in a way that will reduce resistance and increase the chances of success.
May the force be with you.

P.S – I plan to have a follow-up post in the near future with practical advice about these 4 points if you want to know about this blog post make sure you are registered to our mailing list to get notified about it.

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